Hands in the air and a pink tutu around her waist, Safa Muhammad bounced 20 times in eight seconds, as if she were on a pogo stick. Chuck E. Cheese had just arrived at the birthday party, and the 2-year-old reacted like a 1960s teenager in the throes of Beatlemania.
As the bipedal, sneaker-wearing mouse and pizza chain mascot approached, Safa stopped jumping and held up her right hand to receive one of the high-fives Chuck E. was giving out. He high-fived one, two, three, four other children onstage before turning, lowering his head and appearing to look toward Safa, who excitedly pointed at him.
Then, Chuck E. turned and walked away.
Safa’s mother, Natyana Muhammad, captured the exchange in a 15-second clip that had racked up 3.6 million views on Twitter by early Thursday. Muhammad claims the employee playing Chuck E. Cheese on July 30 at the franchise in Wayne, N.J., “racially discriminated” against her daughter, giving out high-fives to several White children before they “PURPOSELY ignored my black baby.” In a tweet, she said that the employee ignored her when she confronted them and that the manager working that day “made excuses” about what happened to her daughter.
“She’s so sweet, she’s so cool, she’s so smart,” Muhammad, 29, told WABC. “And that was actually my first time witnessing someone ignore her or make her feel like she’s invisible.”
PLEASE RETWEET‼️ On July 30 at Chuck E Cheese in Wayne, NJ, my 2yo was racially discriminated against. As you can see, he gives all of the yt kids hi-5s & PURPOSELY ignored my black baby. When confronted, he ignored me as well. The manager, Angie Valasquez, made excuses for him.. pic.twitter.com/QMmE3wmti1— Umm Safa 🩰 (@belllahijabi) July 31, 2022
Chuck E. Cheese did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post early Thursday, but in a statement to NJ.com, the company said it is “saddened” when customers like the Muhammads have “a less than perfect experience.” Chuck E. Cheese thanked the Muhammad family for alerting it to what happened and giving the restaurant manager a chance to apologize and “address their concerns in person.”
“Our goal is to create an inclusive experience for children and parents of all ages, races, ethnicities, religious backgrounds, and learning differences,” the statement said. “Our mission is to provide a fun and a safe place ‘Where A Kid Can Be A Kid,’ and all cast members are trained to ensure that we live up to this promise.”
The alleged snub at Chuck E. Cheese comes after a pair of similar incidents at a Sesame Street-themed amusement park near Philadelphia. On June 18, four employees dressed as characters ignored a 5-year-old Black girl during a meet-and-greet, according to a $25 million federal lawsuit alleging the theme park has engaged in “pervasive and appalling race discrimination,” the Associated Press reported.
In a separate incident about a month later, a woman posted a nine-second video that shows an employee at the same amusement park dressed as Rosita — a turquoise Muppet from Mexico who debuted on “Sesame Street” in 1991 — giving several parkgoers high-fives before seemingly blowing off her Black daughter and niece as the girls clamored for hugs, The Post reported. A day after the video was posted, Sesame Place Philadelphia apologized, saying the employee didn’t intentionally ignore the girls and was “devastated about the misunderstanding.”
Muhammad told NBC News that Safa was attending a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. Because her daughter had never seen the company’s mascot, Muhammad started recording, excited to capture her toddler’s reaction.
After the alleged snub, Muhammad stopped rolling, approached Chuck E., tapped him on the shoulder and let him know her daughter was standing right there. “And he ignored me,” she said.
Muhammad told WABC she then complained to management, which arranged a picture with Safa and Chuck E. But, she added, the damage had been done.
“Her demeanor changed from — she was excited, happy, jumping, high-five — to when it was time to take a picture, just stood beside him,” Muhammad said, imitating how her daughter became physically closed off.
Muhammad intervened and tried to contextualize it with a life lesson.
“I hugged her, told her that I loved her and she never has to” — the mother’s voice cracked, emotion halting her for just a moment — “beg for love. Because she is loved — by many.”